following jesus

In Christ: The Grafted Fig

By Laurel Senick

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“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful; I know that full well.” Psalm139:14 NIV

Figs are my favorite food especially when they are in season. I love to stand under the branches each summer and eat to my heart’s content. I said heart not stomach because eating fresh figs fills me with joy. Walking with Jesus also fills me with joy and thankfully I don’t have to wait until Jesus is in season. 

There was a brief time when my walk with Jesus lacked joy. As a relatively new Christian I believed that as a child of God I had lots of work to do but wasn’t quite sure what. I had happily surrounded myself with other believers and assumed that there was a certain mold of Christian that pleased my Father best. Innocently I studied the other believers and began comparing myself, trying to be like them. Feeling inadequate, I tried on one outfit after another. Often, I felt like a phony. Not religious enough for some and too religious for others. I didn’t seem to fit in until I learned a lesson in horticulture. 

One spring morning at our local Farmer’s Market I chatted with a fellow fig lover who sold fig saplings at his booth. He chuckled at my fig exuberance and told me about a man he knew who collected figs, more than a hundred varieties from all over the world. He had a large fig tree on his property, and he would graft the different figs he’d collected onto this one tree. The tree was planted in a large greenhouse so other varieties from warmer climates could survive. Each year when the tree produced its fruit, every branch he had attached emerged just as it would have on its own variety. Can you imagine it? More than 100 different figs all with their own unique shape, color and flavor fruiting on the same tree.

Suddenly I realized that God never intended me to be like any other child of God. The revelation exploded in my mind like a bite of fresh summer fig. God desired that I would bring all the qualities that he designed in me to His family. Grafted in through Christ’s precious blood, I am now the righteousness of God through Christ in my own unique way. 

Now as a more mature child of God, something new has fruited in my spirit. My husband, Don and I have been ministering at the Harbor, a recovery detox center. Time and again we hear the cry of a broken child of God who feels like they have disappointed God one too many times. They are afraid to ask again for forgiveness. In their hearts they hope and pray this is the last time they ask, but it might not be. Already after only the five months that Don and I have been going we have seen a handful of unfortunate souls return. 

I think it is true what Paul said in Romans 6:1, “Does this mean that now we can go ahead and sin and not worry about it? For our salvation does not depend on keeping the law, but on receiving God’s grace! Of course not!”  But I also believe any sincere effort to quit sinning is met with the grace and mercy of God. Yes, we may fail repeatedly but just as Jesus tells us to forgive our brother when he comes to apologize 70 times 7 times, is God not more faithful than us? Of course! 

I think some would read the story of the prodigal son and note that when the son returned and was perfectly restored, he never strayed again. And maybe he didn’t. But having been a believer for forty of my fifty years I can tell you that this is not true for me. Praise God he is able to rescue and restore us over and over again. It is his loving kindness that leads to repentance and his discipline that trains us in the way we should go. God always is good and for our good. Because he is a good, good Father. 

Vision Weekend

By Abbey Nobles

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“The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.” - Romans 8:3-4

It started in December: the non-stop hustle to get everything accomplished, make everyone feel loved and special, and try to squeeze some time in for connection and purpose with my husband, Brian. In the midst of the Christmas chaos, Brian and I looked at each other and realized that in trying to be so intentional with family, friends, and our students, we had successfully neglected each other. From there, vision weekend was born. We did not set out with the immediate goal of filling out a chart and making big future moves. In the beginning, our mission was simple: plan a weekend where we could “get away,” reflect on both the great and painful things of 2018, and talk about the coming year.

Inspired by Brian Few’s vision sermon this year and reading through a Christmas-New Year’s devotional, we were able to come up with a manageable goal setting and reflective chart that we both could be excited about. (Link to that chart is included here, it is slightly different than the one we passed out at Church) We set our tentative plan of where we would go out to eat, what we would do for fun, when we would talk, etc. and truly let the Spirit inspire what we would talk about. Because we both have a constant myriad of ideas teeming in our brains, and indecision is not too foreign for both of us, we sat down and planned out a schedule so there would be no questions of “where are we going out to eat?” or “what should we do now?” (tentative, but something to fall back on). The week prior we were in prayer and sought prayer from close friends for this weekend. We had some big items to discuss and none of our conversations were stressful or caused any anxiety. We were able to easily knock out about 75% of the chart.

“Do not quench the Holy Spirit.” - 1 Thessalonians 5:19

Advice I would give to anyone wanting to try this weekend are as follows: Be in prayer and ask for prayer from your close community, do not get bummed out if you do not reach all of the discussion goals/topics, trust in the ability to be organic and genuinely inspired; let this guide your conversation. I think we often forget that when we are plugged into the Lord, the Spirit divinely inspires us. We musn’t flee from that and we must be aware of that. Allow time for the Lord to connect you to himself, to inspire and move you deeply. Brian and I started the first morning of our weekend not talking about vision at all, just coexisting in our house, drenched and warmed by the sunrays, drinking coffee on the couch, reading and journaling leisurely and independently, playing music together, and making breakfast. This normality and relaxation was okay because it created the connective space and calm for us to be productive in the following hours.

“Letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace… If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” - Romans 8:6, 11

Let's be a Church that doesn’t make excuses; that is divinely inspired by the Spirit and notices it; that encourages one another to be reflective and set goals for our future. No weekend will be the right weekend, you will never get the most perfect babysitting situation, taking off work is never going to be easy, you will not have the right amount of money saved, or ever enough time. We must stop listening to the lies the Devil uses to replace our ability to commit with excuses. God wants to show you all that he is doing in your life. Let us be a Church body that allows time, space, and energy to be divinely inspired and led by the Spirit. Let us hold each other accountable to this call and let us celebrate with one another when we faithfully walk into a time of seeking vision for our lives.